For the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition, music was not just one of the subjects to be studied for a master’s degree. In a certain broader sense the choral art was the foundation of the educational process. As we read in Plato’s Laws, “the whole choral art is also in our view the whole of education; and of this art, rhythms and harmonies form the part which has to do with the voice.” Music in this wider sense included song, poetry, story, and dance (“gymnastic”).
[T]he greatest scientists have never ceased to be motivated by the desire to find beauty in their equations, and their breakthroughs are often the result of an intuition, or an imaginative leap.
Poetry and the poetic imagination depend very largely on the interplay of likeness and difference. Simile, metaphor, contrast, analogy, are all used to connect one experience with another.
A “symbol” is something that, by virtue of its analogous properties, or some other reason, represents something else. It is not just a “sign,” which is made to correspond to something by an arbitrary convention (like a road sign), but has some natural resemblance to what it represents. Traditional cosmologies were ways of reading the cosmos itself as a fabric woven of natural symbols.
Eventually, every created thing can be seen as a manifestation of its own interior essence, and the world is transformed into a radiant book to be read with eyes sensitive to spiritual light.
To take the examples motioned earlier, a tree is a natural symbol of the way the visible (trunk and branches) comes from the invisible (roots and seed), linking higher and lower realities into one living pattern. As such, it can function either as a symbol of the world as a whole (Yggdrasil, in the Norse myths), or of tradition, or of the Church, or of Man. A star by its piercing and remote beauty represents the “light” of higher realities, or the angels, or the thoughts of God, and so on. In each case, these associations are not arbitrary but precise and natural, even to a large extent predictable and consistent from one culture to another (though capable of many applications and variations). The symbol and the archetype to which it refers are not separate things, for the symbol is simply the manifestation of the archetype in a particular milieu or place of existence. It is “meaning made tangible.”
I’m still slowly working my way through my math books and I’m working on the next post in my “Squaring the Circle” series, but it’s super-slow, now that we’ve gone back to having regular Morning Times. In the meantime, here’s a picture of some of the math books I’ve been gathering.
I don’t know why that Atlas of Military History is there – it’s my youngest son’s book. The coin is a German schilling #1Son found when he was in Guatemala this summer.